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Connecting Parallel Startup Universes

Denver Startup Week was huge for the Denver entrepreneurial scene! It was vibrant with a ton of activities and wide participation from the Denver area. Also in Denver during the same week was the Rocky Mountain Life Science Investor and Partnering Conference, put on by the Colorado BioScience Association. For a bio nerd and startup junkie like myself, it was a very rewarding week. I enjoyed both events, I’m thankful to have been able to IMG_2471participate, and I’d go back next time they come around. CNBC even covered both here and here. My perspective is on the intersection of the events – or more accurately, the lack thereof.

I’m beginning to obsess over this idea. How do we connect the parallel universes of Colorado startup industries? Life Science/Biotech isn’t the only silo, but outside of tech it’s the only one I’m immersed in. Brad Feld talks about the issue in his book Startup Communities, and specifically highlights an unsuccessful interaction with a Boulder biotech group. I won’t say that any person or any group is to blame for the current split – only that we’re here now, and it needs to get better.

Denver Startup Week has been successful twice in two years, and grew significantly from 2012 to 2013. It was not quite, as their signs suggested, a “celebration of everything entrepreneurial in Denver” but it’s getting there, and I only expect the event to grow and become better. It is led by inclusive entrepreneurs, so there is significant community support.

IMG_2473The Colorado BioScience Association’s conference also stands on multiple years of success. Launched in 2009 as a biennial (every 2 years) conference, it brings startups from 5 states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Montana. The 1-day event featured 30 big investors from Colorado, both coasts, and in between: VC’s, public company venture arms, and Angel investors. 30 startups also presented, pitching for everything from angel rounds to getting ready for an IPO. InnovatioNews has a great review of the day here.

Within their own communities, both events were huge. However, almost everyone I talked to at DSW about the biotech conference had no idea it was going on, and many at CBSA’s only found out DSW was going on from the signs on 16th St, since Basecamp was only 4 blocks away. It was close enough that I walked over from the Ritz during a networking break.

There are bright spots in the gap, however. Rockies Venture Club leadership, volunteers, and a few of their top Angels were all over both events. The fact that RVC was founded in 1985 and serves a variety of industries probably helps in that area. There are other people building connections and bridges between the parallel universes, and we need to encourage and cultivate that. This year DSW added a manufacturing track, and I have every reason to believe they’ll keep growing the events. Denver did have a broader focus than Boulder Startup Week, in comparison. BSW was also a great event this year, albeit primarily focused on software and internet. I attended and loved it, and I’ll proudly wear the BSW t-shirt with the 1’s and 0’s logo, even though I can’t write a single line of code.

The noble idea that brings entrepreneurs, creators, artists, and (good) investors together is the belief that we can always make things better by creating value. Startup communities grow organically and tend to be messy, and that breeds collaboration and innovation. I have no doubt this chasm will be bridged; entrepreneurs will lead the way, and the process will add value to anyone involved. The Boulder and Denver startup communities were once pretty segregated, and we’ve seen incredible progress there. Connecting the parallel universes within the Denver/Boulder area is a positive sum game and must be seen that way. It will not be an easy or quick process, but it is worth the effort.

Tim is a regular contributor to the Rockies Venture Club blog and a Master’s of Engineering Management student at CU-Boulder. He holds a bachelor’s in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Denver, and has worked for startups since he left his corporate life as a licensed investment advisor.

Twitter: @taharveyconsult

 

 

The Guppy Tank: A Way To Swim Around VC Funding

Guppy Tank LogoPicture this: Your company has a proven business model, consistent recurring revenue, and an obvious path to growth. You’re making money, but need a cash infusion to get to the next level. You aren’t poised to grow the 10-30X VC’s or angel investors might be looking for, and while you have money coming in you don’t have the balance sheet for a bank loan. What do you do?

Guppy Tank, coming to Galvanize in Denver on September 12th, might have an answer. Born from the idea of TV’s Shark Tank, Guppy Tank is a 1-day alternative lending/investing event to help companies that have revenue but need cash. I was able to talk with Founder and CEO Darrin Ginsberg on the phone, and then catch up with COO Jon Engleking after he was on the Venture Banking panel hosted by Rockies Venture Club that evening.

Alternative lending has a few advantages over more traditional methods of acquiring funds. While venture capital may be the sexy way to raise money, only around 1% of companies ever do, since most are outside of the growth potential VC’s are looking for. Even for the businesses in their target range, we’ve seen the Series A crunch, which can fall around the time that companies have proven their model but aren’t profitable yet. Angel investors as a group fund a wider range of businesses, but they’re looking for similar things as VCs. Bank loans mean the entrepreneur gets to keep their equity and upside potential, but they typically loan against either hard assets, or profitability with a strong balance sheet  – neither of which are common in a startup. While alternative lending may involve higher interest rates than a bank, it can fill a gap in the funding landscape for promising companies that are making money but couldn’t get loans otherwise.

The Guppy Tank team has seen success with this concept before. Their first company in the space, Super G Funding, provides debt financing for credit card processing companies (ISO’s), again lending against residual revenue streams. After getting that up and running, BizCash was next, operating on a similar model of revenue backed installment loans, and serving a wider variety of businesses than Super G Funding. 

Guppy Tank is a combination of the ideas from their other companies and the show Shark Tank. Although the events aren’t televised, they are similar in format, hosting 7-10 entrepreneurs to pitch throughout one day. Denver will actually be their first event open for the public to watch. There are a few differences from the show – Guppy Tank will make decisions as a group, so you won’t see them fighting against Mark Cuban for deals. Instead of having a set panel of investors, Guppy Tank invites local angels to participate in events for each city they host events. Although they’re primarily oriented toward lending $25,000-$500,000 per event, The Guppy Tank is also open to making minority equity investments. They’ve hosted events in both Newport Beach and Los Angeles, CA and now have plans to expand to the rest of the country.

“Denver has good vibes,” Jon said at the RVC event. Maybe that’s why they chose Denver as the first event outside of California, ahead of Chicago and New York. They have chosen Denver for investments in the past, as Darrin is an investor in INCOM Direct, SupportLocal, and Zen Planner. Since SupportLocal offices out of Galvanize, they had already had a good experience, and were excited to host the event there.

Applications are due no later than September 8th 2013, but space is limited so make sure to get applications in early. Since the event open to the public, (and just before Denver Startup Week) if you just want to watch, come by Galvanize on September 12th!

 

Article by Tim Harvey, Regular Contributor to the Rockies Venture Club Blog